Monday, August 17, 2009

The Apple iPad will be an ebook reader

I have been quite decent at predicting Apple's moves recently. With all this talk about the new tablet/netbook by Apple, I thought it was time for me to jump in and make my predictions.

First of all, I do not think it will be a netbook. I just do not see a reason for it. Steve Jobs has said he does not see how they can build a laptop for $500 that is not a piece of junk. Although I disagree with him (they can build one for sure ;-) I totally understand why Apple won't do it: they are the king of the high-end market in laptops, why would they eat into their own market? It is nonsense.

And it will be boring... The MacBook Air on which I am typing now is a beautiful machine, with a large screen and all I need from a laptop. You shrink it a bit and it loses a good keyboard and the large screen. To save money?? Not a chance.

Ok, so now we know it will be a tablet, a sort of an oversized iPhone Touch, with no keyboard.

When you start thinking about the usage for it, you start discounting anything that has to do with typing. No keyboard, no typing. Or, at least, just minimal typing. It is going to be mostly a read-oriented device.

Ok, what do you do with a read-oriented device?
  1. not much email, word processing, spreadsheet and so on
  2. reading something with a browser or an ebook reader
  3. watching something
  4. listening to something
  5. playing games with minimum input
Well, that is an iPod Touch...

What is wrong with the iPod Touch? It is small enough to put in your pocket, but it is too small for reading a book (although it is doable) or watching a movie with a good screen (although it is doable). It is just too small for those things. And it is not even a phone.

Do I need another DVD player? Hardly. As most people out there, I do own one for my daughter, and I just bought her a second one (region free, of course) because the first one broke. It cost me $79 on Amazon... Yes, I might like having a DVD player with me when I fly alone (I don't have one, I watch movies on my laptop or on my iPhone or on the plane TV) but there is not a good reason for me to jump and buy a new one for $500, even if it can download movies on-the-fly...

Do I own an ebook reader? No.

Do you own an ebook reader? Probably not, it is still a niche.

A niche that is going to explode.

I am not saying the iPad will be just an ebook reader. I am saying it will be sold as an ebook reader, that its main feature will be allowing you to read a book. A good-looking Kindle. But one that doubles as a video player, that you can use to browse the web, play games, listen to music and download apps from the App Store. And do some email when you have to.

This is the mp3 player market all over again. Where there mp3 players before Apple came in? Yes. Any really good? No. Any good sync between them and your PC? Nope. Apple changed everything and that market exploded, with Apple owning 90% of it.

The tip that this was going to be Apple's direction came from a very quiet announcement a few months ago: Amazon licensed its book reader technology for the iPhone. Few people read it, but it was huge news to me. It was the trigger for Apple to access the entire library of Amazon. Expect a book store by Apple, with Amazon being a big supplier (but maybe not the only one).

Now, would I buy an ebook reader? Maybe. I have been thinking about it for a while. I just do not like the Kindle aesthetically and maybe an ebook reader would not be enough for me to do it. But if I can also watch movies on a plane, and I can play a little game with it, and I can use it to read email on the couch, and I can leave it on the kitchen table (must have a holder of some sort) for my wife... maybe I will actually buy one. I do believe it has market potential. A sort of mass market Kindle. Exactly as Apple did in the mp3 world, which was a niche until they moved into it.

A book reader. Think about schools and students and kids. It is not a niche.

I do think it will have a camera for videochats. I believe it will be built on the iPhone OS, vs. a full Mac OS X, because developers have built apps for no-mouse interaction on the iPhone. It will be easy to port them to a bigger screen. Apps built for Mac OS require a mouse: you would have to rewrite them from scratch to be used only with fingers or voice. And the App Store is already there (BTW, I am expecting an App Store for Mac OS software soon as well).

Ok, here you have it. I do believe Steve Jobs will be on stage and deliver a great performance, as usual. The press will go wild. Developers will go wild. A new market will be started.

I have seen it before ;-)